Aotearoa, New Zealand. The Land of the Long White Cloud. This small island nation nestled at the bottom of the world is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world.
New Zealand is a land of contrasts. A one-week road trip will take you past white sand beaches, active volcanoes, rolling farmland, snow-capped mountains and temperate rainforest. A trip to New Zealand is what you want to make it – if adventure is your thing, you’re in the right place. New Zealand is the home of bungy jumping and a wealth of other adventure sports. Looking for world class wine? New Zealand has that too. Fancy yourself a photographer or a mountaineer? You’ll be right at home in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a long way from most places, but the trip is worth it. Not convinced? Here are 7 highlights from a New Zealand road trip to help inspire you to hop on a plane and travel to bottom of the world.
1. Kawhia Hot Springs
Kawhia a small village about two hours south of New Zealand’s biggest city – Auckland. It’s a quiet town, one that you’d probably not visit had you not read about it here. It’s a lovely place set on a harbour, but the biggest draw to Kawhia is the hot water beach situated right outside of town.
Head down at low tide, bring a spade and dig yourself your own spa pool. As you dig up the sand, the pool will fill with naturally heated geothermic water. Sit back, relax, and watch the sunset from your own private spa pool.
2. Raglan and the world’s longest left hand break
Raglan is a small surf town located about three hours south of Auckland. You’ll know you’re in a surf town when you stroll down the main street with its surf shops, tanned and long hairs surfers, and barefoot people everywhere you look. It’s a place that feels stuck in the 1980s, and it’s a place you won’t want to leave.
Raglan is known the world around for Manu Bay – this bay is home to the world’s longest left hand break and featured in the 1966 film Endless Summer. If you’re keen to learn to surf, or if you’re a seasoned pro, Raglan is a must-see.
3. Get subterranean in Waitomo
The Waitomo Caves are on most tourists “Must See” list, and for all the right reasons. Waitomo translates to “Water flowing into underground holes,” and under the green rolling farmland of Waikato, you’ll find an enormous labrinth of caves. Over millions of years, this water flowing underground has eroded the limestone and created an EPIC cave system.
Most places in the world, you’d simply get a walking tour through the caves. Not in New Zealand, the land of adventure sports. Here you can go with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company on a range of epic trips – everything from black water rafting through the caves to a dry high-ropes climbing type adventure.
4. New Zealand’s best one-day walk
There are thousands of kilometers of well maintained hiking trails all around New Zealand, so choosing a favorite is no easy task. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the middle of the North Island is known as “New Zealand’s Best One-day Walk,” so if there’s one hike you’re going to do in New Zealand – this is the one.
This 19km (12 mile) one-way tramp across the volcanic landscapes of the Tongariro National Park can be done unguided in the summer months, but in the winter you’ll need the guiding services of Stewart and Adrift Outdoors to ensure you get safely across the crossing. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you past three active volcanoes – Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Tongariro – and features stunning views of the surrounding countryside and active geothermal lakes. It’s an unbelievable experience, a must do that should be high up on your New Zealand bucket list.
5. Crossing the Cook Strait
A road trip around New Zealand will likely have you crossing the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands. This is no ordinary ferry crossing, and one that you’ll want to make sure you do during the day. Leaving Wellington, you cross the often rough waters of the Cook Strait before reaching the sheltered waters of the Marlborough Sounds. The Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Sounds are a beautiful area of rolling hills, thick bush, sandy beaches, and mussel farms.
Here you’ll pass remote homesteads only accessible by boat and enjoy views of the emerald blue waters of the sounds and the native-bush covered hillsides.
Interislander offers exceptional service on their ferries. Consider upgrading to their Premium Plus lounge for only $45 where you’ll get free WiFi, complimentary New Zealand wine and food to make the journey that much more enjoyable.
6. Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier
The drive down the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is an incredible experience in and of itself. The rugged and windswept coastline is incredibly scenic, unpopulated and unforgettable. The section from Greymouth to Westport is often ranked the in the top 10 most beautiful dives in the world, and after making the trip you’ll understand why.
On a trip down the coast, hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier is a “NZ Must Do.” The glacier stretches over 12 kilometres from high up in the mountains all the way down into the temperate rainforest of the West Coast, and is the result of the incredible amounts of rain that the West Coast sees each year – over 75 inches. High up in the mountains this rain falls as snow, creating the big Franz Josef Glacier.
A guided hike departs from Franz Josef village, where the Franz Josef Glacier Guides set you up with warm clothing and crampons before choppering you up onto the ice. You’ll learn about the history of the glacier whilst getting the chance to hike across this ancient piece of ice.
7. The adventure capital of Queenstown
Upon arriving to Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, you might wonder why you’d ever leave. I did, and as it turns out Queenstown has become my adopted home. This epic little resort town is surrounded by mountains and features world class restaurants, wineries and of course a heap of adventure sports to consider. Further afar, Queenstown offers you access to some of the best hiking and biking trails in New Zealand. When visiting Queenstown, a day trip to Milford Sound is a must-do, as is simply relaxing by the lake and drinking coffee in one of the town’s many cafes.
Fancy seeing the best bits for yourself? Adventure on your own schedule with a Europcar New Zealand car rental!
About the Author: Matt has lived in New Zealand for the past five years. He runs the award winning travel blog Backpacking Matt and New Zealand’s largest travel-planning and booking website, Planit NZ. When he’s not helping people plan or book trips to New Zealand, he’s out hiking, biking or flying his paraglider from the mountains around Queenstown. You can follow Matt on Instagram here.